Sports & Physical Activities

Common sense must prevail in making decisions about sports and other potentially dangerous physical activities.

There must be a balance between an active, full life and safety. For most persons, the balance is easily achieved because most sports can be safely pursued by adults with epilepsy. Persons with well-controlled seizures, seizures occurring only during sleep, or seizures that are always preceded by a warning should have few or no restrictions on physical activities.

Some restrictions should apply for persons who continue to have complex partial or tonic-clonic seizures, even if they are preceded by warnings. In skydiving, for example, even if the person is able to pull the ripcord, a seizure may prevent control of the descent, increasing the risk of landing in trees or power lines; without control, even hitting the ground could be deadly. Restrictions also apply to scuba diving unless the dive depth is less than15 feet. Of course, as with any scuba dive, the person must be accompanied by a friend.

However, for persons whose seizures are not fully controlled, there are still many sporting activities that can be pursued. These include water skiing, sailing, wind-surfing, snorkeling, bicycling, gymnastics, soccer, football, baseball, handball, squash, tennis, basketball, volleyball, archery, skiing, sledding, hiking, and many others. However, when a person is engaged in any of these activities, certain precautions should be taken to minimize the risk of injury.

Water Sport Safety

When water skiing, sailing, windsurfing, or participating in other water sports, wearing a life vest reduces the risk of drowning; its use is required of all water skiers in many states. None of these activities should be pursued by a person with epilepsy unless someone is nearby who is familiar with the condition and with basic lifesaving skills. Snorkeling can also be enjoyed by persons with seizures, but they must use caution about where they snorkel. In some areas, the rocks, corals, and sea urchin spines form a maze close to the water’s surface. If the water stirs, even an experienced snorkeler can get cut or injured. Such areas should be avoided by persons whose seizures are not fully controlled because their ability to navigate through the sharp objects in the maze could be impaired. Although diving from the edge of a pool, dock, or low diving board is generally safe, diving off a high diving board is dangerous. For all of these activities, persons with epilepsy must weigh the risks and benefits.

Hiking / Climbing Safety

Although hiking can be safely pursued by persons with recurrent seizures, mountain climbing can be dangerous even for the most alert and agile climber. A brief lapse of concentration or a small problem with control of movement could be deadly. Nature is not forgiving. Climbers should carefully consider the specific trail or mountain before starting and remember that there is no glory in proceeding when they reach an unexpected and dangerous obstacle.

Hunting Safety

Hunting can be safely pursued by persons with epilepsy. However, for those whose seizures are not fully controlled, they should not hunt alone. If the person has a warning of a seizure, he or she should lay the gun down immediately. If a warning does not always occur, it may be best only to load the rifle shortly before shooting, and then to unload it if no shot is taken.